Over the past four years, Nick Bakhtiari has educated visitors about the history of the Corn Palace from the confines of the gift shop across the street.
And now, he will help run Mitchell’s biggest tourist attraction from inside the walls of the Corn Palace. In late April, Bakhtiari was selected as the new assistant Corn Palace director, a position he feels equipped to take on. Bakhtiari was previously the general manager of the Corn Palace gift shop across the street, which is owned and operated by the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce.
“It gave me a whole new perspective working at the gift shop. A lot of locals don’t necessarily come inside the Corn Palace during the summer and see the 250,000-plus people that come in the building and flood our town,” Bakhtiari said of his time working as the Corn Palace gift shop manager. “The skills I learned on the tourism side of things will help make me valuable, because I can provide some information on the history and background of the Corn Palace.”
Bakhtiari replaced Jeri Mickelson, who served as the assistant director for nearly a decade. Mickelson resigned in March.
Out of the handful of qualified applicants, Corn Palace Director Doug Greenway said Bakhtiari stood above the rest. Greenway pointed to Bakhtiari’s business knowledge and past experience in retail management as an attribute that will serve the Corn Palace well.
“We had well over 20 applicants who were qualified, but Nick (Bakhtiari) was head and shoulders above the rest,” Greenway said. “His energy and passion for the Corn Palace gave me confidence that he will do a great job.”
Bakhtiari’s journey to Mitchell began when his wife, Laura, accepted a third-grade teaching job at Longfellow Elementary in 2013. Since transplanting to the community roughly seven years ago, the couple have been raising their two children, Nixon and Maddox.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Superior with a degree in business, Bakhtiari went on to become a district manager for a clothing company, Glik’s. His business background helped him land the Corn Palace gift shop manager position in 2017. While running the gift shop, Bakhtiari was responsible for ordering all of the Corn Palace-themed merchandise, along with providing tours at the corn-clad tourist attraction.
“When we first moved here, I remember thinking what is a Corn Palace? Fast forward to now, and I’m working in the building,” Bakhtiari said.
As the assistant director, Bakhtiari is tasked with overseeing the Corn Palace concessions operations, including staff training and bringing aboard new items. In addition, Bakhtiari will work alongside Greenway during the sporting events and entertainment concerts, ensuring things are running smoothly.
Along with day-to-day operations, Bakhtiari said he won’t hesitate to answer any questions visitors may have about the building. He's among the first faces to greet tourists in the Corn Palace box office and Bakhtiari said first impressions are vital for providing a memorable experience for tourists taking in the Corn Palace.
“This is such a unique building and experience, and I am excited for the opportunity,” Bakhtiari said. “There are so many people who come to see this place every year, and I want to help create an atmosphere that gives people a reason to come back or invite others to visit.”
Although Bakhtiari has been enjoying his first month on the job, beginning his new career at the Corn Palace in the midst of a global pandemic and a two-month closure of the building, wasn’t how he imagined his first few weeks of work would play out. But as the Corn Palace reopened its doors to the public on Monday, Bakhtiari has been able to get his first experience of what goes into the operations.
“Things were just starting to completely shut down when I started in late April, but I was able to learn a lot of information about the operations,” he said. “It was interesting to begin when all of this was going on, but I tried to make the best of it.”